The sectarian split across the Middle East has reached northern Africa, where longtime Iranian ally Sudan is shifting sharply to the Sunni camp. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Late last year, President Omar al-Bashir ordered the network of Iran’s cultural centers in his country shut down, ostensibly on the grounds that they were propagating Shiite Islam in a country that has virtually no Shiites.Then, in April, he unexpectedly joined Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies in the war in Yemen, sending Sudanese warplanes to bomb pro-Iranian Houthi forces. He also sought to nurture close ties with Egypt’s new ruler, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. In a Middle East divided along sectarian lines, impoverished Sudan—the Arab world’s third-largest nation by population and size—for now has firmly placed itself in the Saudi-led Sunni camp.
This realignment is a result of two interconnected phenomena we’ve been covering here at TAI: the previously mentioned sectarian split in the Middle East between Sunni and Shi’a, which is getting increasingly bitter, and Saudi Arabia’s newly assertive, petrodollar-driven foreign policy. As the Journal reports, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been explicit: his country “cannot have strategic ties with Iran at this time [of] escalating tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.” As a result, Iran stands to lose a conduit through which it has passed arms to Hamas.And for that reason, among others, at least one important Iranian scholar thinks this story is a pretty big deal:
“The tilt by Sudan toward Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most important victory for Saudi Arabia and the GCC in its strategic competition with Iran in the past decade,” said Mohsen Milani, an Iran expert and executive director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida.
The loss of Khartoum won’t be the blow that fells the mullahs, by any means. New sources of funding, new international ties, and new ways to transport weapons will be opening up to Tehran in the wake of the nuclear deal. But if Iran can’t keep Bashir—a wanted war criminal—and his regime in its bad boys camp, it may have underestimated the severity of the sectarian backlash it is fomenting across the Arab world.